France 2-0 Togo / Switzerland 2-0 South Korea
Have rumours of the France’s demise been exaggerated? Well, the media have been cruel to them this week, but it hasn’t been entirely without reason. France had been poor, going into this evening’s match against Togo, and this was borne out still further by the fact that it still took them an hour to score against one of the weakest teams in the tournament. Could the veterans turn it on one more time, albeit not quite the same level of opposition that they’ve shone so brightly against in the past?
Yes, but only sort of. On the one hand, they created plenty of chances, and (more importantly), they looked as if they could be bothered. The margin of victory was by no means flattering to the French, but the point here is surely that it shouldn’t have needed to be. Togo, already eliminated from the competition and having had the most shambolic back-stage shenanigans of any team in living memory, should have been there for the taking, but as France took pot-shots at the Togolese goal, they couldn’t break them down. All of which reminds me… what exactly is the point of Franck Ribery? Apart from picking the ball up in the centre of midfield and passing the ball ten yards in one direction (not usually the most useful one), he doesn’t really do anything. If he’s emblematic of the new generation of French players that should be sweeping Zizou and his old chums out, they’re in serious trouble.
They relied on the ageing class of Vieira and Henry to dig themselves out of a hole and finished at a canter, but this was not the France, the European equivalent that we have come to know and love. Should they wish to get past Spain in round two (and Holland or Portugal in the quarter-finals), they will have their work cut out. But in Henry they still have probably the best striker in Europe. They’ll always have a chance, so long as he is on the pitch, receiving the ball, and is interested.
Elsewhere, the Swiss tied up the group, and ended the challenge of South Korea. They look tidy and effective, and they certainly don’t lack heart – for anybody who wants confirmation of this, I’d suggest that you take a look at the mess that Phillipe Senderos made of his face in order to score their first goal. Their second round match against Ukraine is one of the more intriguing draws of the second round – with three games played and three clean sheets, they could just go on and become one of the surprise teams of the tournament. Having filled his boots against the mighty Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, will Andrey Shevchenko be able to repeat himself against a more organised defence? We shall see. I feel a little bit sorry for the Koreans. They had plenty of heart and incredible support, but those two things in themselves haven’t been enough in themselves. The World Cup will certainly be a little bit poorer for their support going home, though.